Managing Recurring Bad Dreams and Night Terrors

Managing Recurring Bad Dreams and Night Terrors

Having frequent bad dreams or night terrors can be distressing and disrupt your ability to get proper rest. But there are ways to manage these nighttime disturbances and reduce their impact.

In this blog article, we will cover techniques for coping with recurring nightmares, bad dreams that wake you up, and night terrors in both adults and children.

What Causes Recurring Bad Dreams?

Bad dreams, also known as nightmares, often relate to stress, trauma, or fears in your waking life. When these become more frequent, referred to as recurring dreams, it usually indicates an unresolved emotional issue. Common triggers for recurring bad dreams include:

– Anxiety or depression
– Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
– Certain medications or substance withdrawal
Sleep disorders like sleep apnea
– Fever or illness

In children, bad dreams tend to decrease after age 6-7 as their sleeping brains mature. But some children have frequent scary dreams up until their early teen years.

Tips to Stop Nightmares and Bad Dreams

While you can’t control the content of your dreams, certain relaxation strategies and dream interpretation techniques can help reduce disturbing dreams.

1. Keep a Dream Journal

Recording your dreams upon waking can help reduce nightmares over time. As you journal, look for patterns or themes in the content of your dreams. Certain symbols may represent underlying stresses, fears or unresolved issues in your life.

Journaling helps you process and interpret the meaning behind the dreams. Over time, this increased awareness can help you address the real-life triggers influencing the dreams.

2. Practice Relaxation Before Bed

Activities like meditation, gentle yoga stretches, deep breathing, soothing music or reading something light or calming before going to sleep can signal to your body that it’s time to relax and wind down. This trains your nervous system and brain to associate your bed with calmness rather than stress or anxieties.

Going to bed already relaxed helps prevent disturbing dreams from forming. Develop a relaxing routine you do the same way every night for maximum benefits.

3. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

CBT is an effective treatment method for recurring nightmares. With the help of a therapist, you can learn to change thought patterns associated with your dreams. For example, if a particular event triggers nightmares, reframe your negative thoughts about it.

You can also practice a technique called “image rehearsal therapy” – recall the nightmare, change its ending to be non-threatening, then rehearse the new positive version before sleeping to train your brain.

4. Consider Changing Medications

Certain medications like antidepressants, blood pressure drugs and those affecting neurotransmitters linked to sleep have been known to contribute to nightmares as a side effect.

Talk to your doctor about potentially adjusting dosages or trying alternative options known to cause fewer dreams or nightmares. Keep a log tracking when nightmares occur to help identify if medications are a trigger.

young man scared in dreams

What Are Night Terrors and What Causes Them?

Night terrors differ from bad dreams because:

1 – They occur early in the sleep cycle during deep non-REM sleep, while dreams happen during REM sleep later on.
2- The person sits up abruptly displaying panic but not full awakening, and likely won’t recall the event later.
3- They arise during sleep transitions, often when ill or following sleep deprivation.

While adults can experience night terrors, these episodes usually affect young children from ages 3-12 years old. Night terrors often run in families and involve underlying genetics that control sleep stability. Other risk factors include sleep apnea and medications that interfere with REM sleep.

Ways to Minimize Night Terrors

To reduce night terror episodes, both lifestyle and sleep environment adjustments can help in tandem with medical guidance based on any underlying conditions.

1. Ensure Adequate Sleep

Being overtired is a major trigger for night terrors. Not getting sufficient, quality sleep disrupts normal sleep patterns. Make sure to adhere to age-appropriate recommended hours of sleep per night.

Being consistent with bedtimes and wake times helps regulate circadian rhythms which minimizes disruptions.

2. Limit Screen Time Before Bed

The blue light emitted from electronic screens suppresses melatonin production and confuses the body clock. This poor sleep hygiene makes it harder to fall into deep, restorative sleep when lights out comes. Shut off all screens at least 1 hour before bedtime to allow the body to wind down naturally.

3. Create Calming Bedtime Routines and Transitions

Especially for young children prone to night terrors upon sleep transitions, institute soothing habits between activity/wakefulness and sleep.

Gentle activities like reading books together, soft music, dim nightlights and back/scalp massages promote relaxation. Short, consistent routines signal to the brain it’s time to rest.

4. Conduct a Home Safety Check

During a night terror episode, the individual may act out dreams by moving around, screaming or even attempting to flee in a semi-awake state.

Make sure their bedroom and entire home is baby/toddler proofed with guarded stairs, windows, sharp edges etc. to prevent injury from hazardous situations.

5. Consider Clinical Sleep Studies

If night terrors occur frequently over weeks/months despite lifestyle adjustments, see a sleep specialist.

They may recommend overnight polysomnography to check for possible underlying sleep disorders treatable with behavioural therapies and sometimes medications under medical guidance. Addressing root causes can help significantly reduce frightening episodes.

Though distressing, recurring bad dreams and night terrors often improve by addressing lifestyle, health, and emotional factors triggering these sleep interruptions in both children and adults. Keeping a detailed log of episodes and learning relaxation techniques also aid the healing process for more restful nights.